Wednesday, August 7, 2019

What Money Can't Buy

In 1998 Korea acknowledged facing a crisis of bankruptcy and asked for help from the International Monetary Fund, IMF. The government was not  able to  see the problems with foreign exchange that brought about financial difficulties. So begins an article by a professor working in quantum science.

At the time of IMF an economic scholar who visited Korea on leaving left these words: "In this world numbers are associated with everything, it's the dollar." An extreme expression and no need to associate numbers with dollars but Korea went through financially difficult times because of numbers.

What is meant by justice? Michael Sandel, the author of  What Money Can't Buy, a best seller, asks what are the moral limits of the market. Unlike the past every thing can be bought and sold. The market mentality has destroyed many of our realtionships of the past. The rules of the market should not be used in our social relationships, institutions and our thinking but it does.

From an early age, instinctively we compare what is mine to what another has. The proverb: the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence is an indication of this reality. This is the reason we use numbers in comparisons, science and technology which continue to advance, and the market goes its way with selling and buying. Height and age, weight, wealth, friends, are given in numbers. We understand another better with these numbers, they help us to know another's problems and how to help. But Sandel in his book reminds us that not everything is determined by numbers we can't determine human values by numbers.

Numbers do not tell us everything about a person. When persons do the same work and one gets paid much and the other little is this just? In the same way one works little and another works much and they receive the same pay is this just? In a parable of Matthew's Gospel 20: 1-16, some only work one hour and get the same pay as those that worked the whole day. Is this just? If this happened today what would happen? And yet this was the contract that was made with the workers. They got what they contracted for.

Can we say this is unjust? "Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last- comer as much as I gave you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?" And concludes with: "Thus the last will be first and the first last." God has his way of judging, often not the way we judge.

When we talk about justice we take two quantities  and compare and measure them.This can be done rather easily with logical and objective results. We can make a statistically basically good response. But dealing with people it is not as easy as the words we use. Consequently, concern for numbers is not as important as agreement, and promise.

We have come a long way in the way we use numbers and brought great inovations to our daily life. Numbers have entered almost all facets of life: politics, sports, education, practically all of life. Using numbers does give us more accuracy and efficiency but they are not what justice is all about. As Sandel says there are many things that money can not buy.  The fact is that principles and methods of the market govern a great deal of what we do and we forget that what is important has little to do with numbers.

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